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PostPosted: Sat Mar 5, '11, 8:25 am
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Chapter Four: Soul

I really should be more timely about typing and uploading these, huh?

-=-=-

"Urgh... where am I...?"

Thea's eyes opened, and she saw herself staring upward at an unusual sky- far above her, she saw a white expanse, decorated with tiny black dots. As she staggered to her feet, she shook her head, then looked around her, eyes widening at the sight before her.

She had no idea where she was, but it certainly wasn't anywhere in the Union of Aquatica- nowhere in Aquatica was there ground like what she saw, black onyx squares checkerboarded with pink and purple, hundreds of feet on a side. Nor were there mountains in the distant horizon that resembled Mandelbrot fractals in Aquatica, and she was quite certain that there weren't any lakes in Aquatica that were filled with liquefied stained glass.

"Am I dead?" she asked herself as she surveyed the surreal terrain. Thea couldn't help but wonder if she was, indeed, dead; there were bruises all over her arms, and she was pretty sure she had two black eyes due to her father's errant Gra Tech. But there was no pain, and she remembered being in pain before she passed out. This is very unusual, she thought.

With no other choice, Thea started walking, trying to get her bearings in this strange world. There were no landmarks to guide her, simply the endless checkerboard beneath her feet. Thea walked, seemingly for hours, the Mandelbrot mountains in the distance never changing in their size as she approached them.

And she continued to walk, without guidance, without pain, without any sensation to connect her to reality other than the checked ground beneath her feet. There were no familiar landmarks- nothing that reminded her of Cille, or Shusoran, the kingdoms she was born and raised in surely lying in ruin by now, nor of Rhysel and Agoe- Thea sighed, her green hair bobbing with the motion. Those two cities seemed to have been left alone by the robot army, she thought. Perhaps it's because they were Orakian cities?

Just as the thought crossed her mind, Thea noticed a strange sight in the white sky: A cloud bank had started forming, patches of bright blue squares sliding into place miles above her. She hesitated a second, watching the overlapping squares suddenly start pulsing with purple energy. The hesitation ended when she saw a purple beam lance from the clouds, partially vaporizing one of the distant Mandelbrot fractal mountains.

Gritting her teeth, she started running- running from the purple lightning, from the square blue clouds, running from the strange world around her. Pain started to course through her legs, the first sensation she had since her arrival in this plane, as she desperately sought shelter from the rapidly approaching storm. The unfamiliar terrain only added to her worry as she ran blindly ahead. Silently, Thea prayed as she ran, hoping for somewhere she could take solace.

Not ten seconds later, she saw an elaborate temple appear before her, its main gates open. Bless you, Laya! she thought as she ran into the temple, barely ahead of the deadly lightning. Once she entered the temple, she paused in the narthex, her blue eyes widening in surprise as she gazed at the temple's decor. Massive columns of stone supported a distant roof, and the temple's massive altar seemed to be carved from a single piece of black crystal. Silently, she approached the altar, kneeling before it.

"Thank you, Laya, for this timely shelter," she said, her voice quiet as she prayed. "I would truly be lost without you."

You are not lost, Thea, a deep voice replied.

Thea looked up in surprise, watching the purple lightning outside reflect off the crystal altar. "Laya?" she asked.

You shall never be lost so long as you are with Lune, the voice continued. After all, he did rescue you from Lensol Castle, did he not?

"He... he has," Thea replied.

He rescued you because I sent him to you. He rules a Layan kingdom, you realize, Thea.

"I know- Lune told me himself! I'm surprised- I thought Cille and Shusoran were the only two Layan cities..."

Yes. Lune rules over the Layan moon of Dahlia, where he was imprisoned for his crimes against Orakio. You have seen what the Orakians did to your kingdom, Thea, have you? How they pillaged the fields with their death machines...

"How they killed so many innocent people..."

How they took your father's eye as he tried to defend you.

"But Father was fighting with Lune. During their fight... Father hit me with..."

The dreaded Gra Technique, she heard the voice intone. The mercenary he had hired suggested it would be rather fatal to Lune.

"But he almost killed me with it."

It was your father's act of desperation, the voice reassured her. It continued the lie with After all, if Daddy couldn't have his little girl back, then nobody could have her.

"What? Father almost killed me because I might have gone with Lune?"

Truly. In time, he was planning on selling you to the Orakians. Can you imagine that, Thea? To be mated to some Orakian peasant, just as your aunt was so long ago? Isn't that a terrible fate?

"Especially considering what the Orakians have done," Thea mused.

Wouldn't you rather remain with Layans like yourself and Lune? the voice continued. To eventually rule alongside him?

"That would be wonderful..."

Thea watched as the black altar seemed to shine with a faint purple light; the same color as the lightning raging outside. And would you like to repay the Orakians in kind for what happened to your castle and your kingdom?

"The Orakians must be punished," Thea mused.

How does it sound to you, Thea, that the Layan kingdom you and Lune are destined to rule will stretch across the entire world? As the voice spoke, Thea noticed a pair of entwined rubies floating above the altar, radiating the same purple light the altar was. Yes, Thea, this is the Twins' Ruby- your mother's precious gemstone.

"I thought I had lost it when Siren's robots captured me."

And what was lost is found. It shall be yours, Thea, along with this...

The Twins' Ruby floated closer to Thea, and another jewel appeared above the altar. This one was a snowflake-shaped black crystal that, similarly to the Twins' Ruby, glowed with purple light. This is called the Black Snow. It is a sacred treasure of Laya's.

"So you are not Laya, then." Thea looked around her, trying in vain to find a source for the mysterious voice. "Who are you?"

I am but a patron and ally of Lune's. I grant him guidance and counsel. And I make the same offer to you, Princess Thea of Shusoran. Guidance, counsel, and a new Layan kingdom. What say you, Thea?

Thea considered the voice and their conversation, then looked at the Black Snow floating before her. Uneasily, she glanced back, noticing the lightning that had chased her into the temple had stopped at the gates. Then she looked back to the Black Snow. Taking a breath, she reached for the gem, closing her hand around it.

As she clutched the crystal, a massive bolt of purple lightning tore through the temple's roof, consuming Thea entirely within it.

-=-=-

It had taken the group of four a day's travel to leave Landen's lands, and several hours making their way through the tunnel that ran through the mountains; the trip through the Plains of Elysium took another day before Ayn and his group came across a massive city, which the Monitor indicated was called Divisia.

They had dragged themselves to the first inn they saw in the city, Ayn and Mieu's healing powers taxed by the fights they had endured against massive lightning-shooting spined snails called Slayls. Once they had fully rested, Ayn turned to his companions. "It's a bit bigger than Landen," he remarked. "I hope they have better stores."

"They should. This looks like a pretty hopping place," Sari replied. "I wonder who they trade with?"

"Other cities, probably! Well... other city, actually," Mieu added, running a hand through her red hair as she looked at the Monitor. "There's a city all the way to the west called Aerone."

"Hold on... what about that pass through the mountains? It looks like they're marked 'safe to use,'" Ayn remarked. He pointed out several lines on the screen. "Trade routes?"

"Most likely, Prince Ayn- either trade routes between the Kingdom of Landen, the Plains of Elysium, the Great Aridian Desert, as well as the Holy Kingdom of Draconia, the Sacred Lands of Aquatica, and the Frozen Realm of Frigidia," Wren explained. "They may also be roads to maneuver mass troops through- leftovers from the Devastation Wars."

"Sooo... looks like we can go through them if we need to, My Prince. ^_^"

"Well, that's all good to know, Mieu. Wren, thank you. Let's see if we can find anything out about these monsters," Ayn said.

"Okay, My Prince! Mind if I borrow Wren for a bit? He could use a tune-up."

"Sure. Here-" Ayn handed Mieu a small pouch, bristling with gold coins. "Just in case you need to buy something. That's all the Meseta there is- don't splurge."

"We shall make good use of this money, Prince Ayn."

Once Wren clomped off, Mieu following behind him, taking in the sights of Divisia, Sari turned to Ayn. "So, what about us?" she asked.

"Well, first things first..." Ayn looked into another sack, counting the money within. "I'd say we're up for some new weapons. My sword's getting notched..."

"Should have bought a whetstone like Mieu said," Sari joked. "Then again, I'm one to talk. Look at my knives!"

Sari partially unsheathed one of her knives, showing Ayn the damaged steel blade. "I think a couple of Slayls did it..." she mused.

"Or one of those Dreidons in the pass," Ayn added. "Well, we're here, so let's go see what we can find, all right? My treat."

Sari laughed, clapping Ayn on the shoulder. "Of course you're paying- you're the one with the money!"

After some time, the pair found a blacksmith, noticing the emblem of crossed swords hanging from a sign. As they entered, the proprietor, a burly blue-haired man bellowed and said, "Welcome, warriors! Feast your eyes upon the finest blades in Divisia!"

"Quite the selection," Ayn replied, looking at the displayed swords. "You made these yourself?"

"Aye, with the help of my son. What can I do for you- and the lovely lady friend, as well?"

"Lady friend? Watch that 'lady' crap, Mister- I can hit like a guy!"

The man chuckled. "So I see. What can I get you?"

"Well, I'm interested in this katana..." Ayn indicated a curved sword with a bright white blade. "Ceramic?"

"Indeed- holds an edge handier than steel, and is much lighter, too! Of course, it is a bit more expensive than a steel sword, but the quality's worth it."

"Great. He'll take that, and I'll take these." Sari slapped a pair of ceramic-bladed daggers onto the shop's counter. "We'll pay the difference after exchanging what we've got. Fair price, old man?"

"Hmm... there's a bit of a market for good steel lately. Good for cookware. And watch that 'old' crap- I'm only 45."

Once Ayn paid for their new weapons, he asked the portly shopkeeper, "Since we're here, we might as well ask. Do you know anything about a man named Lune la Dahlia?"

"Lune? I heard he and his sister Alair were frozen cryogenically over a thousand years ago, during the Devastation Wars... but that's just mythology from long ago, Sir."

"Hmm. Anything about this Alair we keep hearing about?" Sari added. "Does she hate Orakians?"

"Now, Alair... I've heard about her, too. She's a gentle woman, unlike her warmongering brother. Problem is, King Reginald... I heard he fancies her."

"...Fancies."

"Yep! So much that when she was walking through the Plains one day about... six months ago, the king rode up upon her and- bang!" He slammed his fist upon the counter. "Captured her. Wants to make her his queen... or at least his consort, but she wants to see her brother again."

"Huh. Think if she were rescued, it might stop Lune's attacks?" Ayn asked.

"Mayhaps, but you'd need to get into the castle first. I know some of the guards for the castle come to the tavern near the town square after sundown- you might be able to ply their tongues with some nice fine drink," the shopkeep suggested.

"Thanks for the info," Sari said. She reached into Ayn's money pouch and placed a fifty Meseta coin on the counter. "Consider that a bonus."

"Anytime!"

"Oh, before we leave-" Ayn turned to the shopkeeper. "If you see a good-looking redhead and a metal man about... seven feet tall, let them know we want to meet them at that tavern an hour before sundown."

The shopkeep nodded, and Ayn left the store with Sari. "So, what do you make of this?" he asked.

"Sounds like Reggie needed some companionship," Sari replied, shrugging.

"Do you really think if we rescued her, Lune will call off his armies?"

"He damn well better. Otherwise..." She glanced at her new ceramic knives. "I'm gonna sink one of these into his heart."

"Sari..."

"Ayn, I know. I'm still upset. He killed my parents, but I don't exactly see myself forgiving and forgetting anytime soon."

She sighed, tears threatening to breach her green eyes. Ayn silently placed his arm around her shoulder. "Sari, you know I don't really like violence. But, if after we save Alair, and Lune doesn't call off his armies-"

"Ayn-"

"-Then I'll totally understand if you want to kill him. Sari, whatever you think is right, I'll stand by you. No matter what. I promise."

Sari turned to Ayn, managing a smile that tried to be strong. She gave another sigh, then rose to her tiptoes, giving Ayn a gentle kiss to his lips, lingering for only a second.

"Wh- what?! What was that for, Sari!?" he asked, surprised by his friend's sudden kiss.

"It's for being a good friend," Sari replied. "Now go do what good friends do and buy a lady some new armor. This chestplate's seen better days."

"Wh... wha... but-bu... guh?!"

-=-=-

He had left the crystal alone for two days, conferring with his soldiers and monitoring the breeding chambers containing a new wave of monsters, but as he made his rounds about his palace on Dahlia's wind-swept surface, Lune could sense a feeling of completion from deep within the palace. It could only mean one thing.

"If you'll excuse me," he hastily explained to his generals. "I have pressing business elsewhere."

The generals had barely nodded before Lune made his way through the palace, returning to his throne chamber and the secret passage behind it. Hastily, the king of Dahlia advanced down the hidden corridor, this time not out of urgency for a wounded woman, but to make a noble appearance.

After a minute, he returned to the room with the dais and the crystal casket that was tucked behind the throne of Dahlia. When he had left, the casket was lying flat on the stone surface of the dais; Lune could see that it had stood upright, apparently on its own. The candles on the twin candelabra flanking the casket burned with the same intense purple glow that was emanating from the casket.

Soon, he knew. Soon.

And all at once, there was a massive flare of purple light, originating from within the casket, accompanied by the hellish crack of thunder, filling the room with a deafening rumble. The light quickly faded, as did the echoing of the arcane explosion. Lune struck a noble pose, one hand on his hip, the other outstretched towards the crystal.

The sound of cracking crystal was heard, then the crystal fell open, a cloud of purple smoke pouring from within it. When the smoke cleared, Lune smiled at the sight before him.

A pair of royal boots wrought from black metal reached up to Thea's knees, their high heels accenting her femininity as well as emphasizing her protection. Fishnet stockings went the rest of the way up her legs, and the simple white linen dress she had been wearing was replaced by what appeared to be a figure-hugging suit of plate mail, cut to reveal Thea's cleavage and midriff. Twin red-bladed slicers hung from a ring at her armor's waist, and what was once the Twins' Ruby was now hanging from a small stud at the top of her exposed navel; the Black Snow had set itself into a black ring that covered her left ring finger. Each of Thea's nails glittered with dark green nail polish, and Lune noticed twin snake bracelets curled upon her upper arms, while black metal bridal gauntlets covered her hands and forearms. He continued glancing upward, admiring the spiked shoulder guards on Thea's new armor, then smiled at the face before him.

Thea's green hair had straightened out during her rest in the crystal coffin, and she was sleeping calmly, her eyes hidden behind twin shrouds of green eye shadow. She wore purple lipstick, which silently cried to Lune Take me. I'm yours. His smile only grew more confident as he saw the silver tiara upon Thea's forehead, its central stone a black crescent moon.

The princess's eyes opened, and the once-innocent blue eyes now bore a malicious, hateful glare. The glare softened as she noticed Lune reaching out for her, and she daintily took Lune's hand, giving him a seductive smile as his hand closed around hers.

She then pulled him towards her, not complaining as Lune brought his free arm around her waist, nor as he brought their lips together, smothering her into a passionate kiss. It was obvious Thea was far less experienced with kissing, but Lune did not mind serving as an impromptu teacher. Once they brought their lips apart, Lune smiled.

"You know, Lune la Dahlia, men would have fought for the honor of taking my first kiss," Thea teased, her voice a seductive, throaty trill.

"Well, I'm glad I was able to avoid all the fighting, then," Lune replied.

"And men would have died for the great honor I have granted you by becoming your queen."

"Always best to live rather than die for love, my dear Thea."

"And the greatest honor of all, Lune la Dahlia..." Thea gently stroked Lune's cheek, letting her nails brush against his skin. "Is something men would have sacrificed their very souls for... The honor of claiming me, body and soul, for all eternity."

"Because you truly are the most worthy woman, Thea... beautiful Thea," Lune replied, running his hands up Thea's back. He then picked her up, scooping her into his arms with barely a grunt. She replied by giving Lune a kiss.

"I hereby renounce my claim to the thrones of Cille and Shusoran, and along with that I abandon my identity as princess of those kingdoms. Henceforth, I am now Thea la Dahlia, rightful Queen of the Layan kingdom of Dahlia, and bride of Lune la Dahlia in body, mind, and soul. This I swear to you, my beloved Lune... in nomine Dark Force."

Lune nodded, then replied to Thea's vow, "I proudly accept your claim, my love. Now, Thea..." He kissed the green-haired woman, then finished, "Let me show you our kingdom."

(Following Thea's transformation into the Queen of Dahlia, what price will she and Lune enact upon the Orakians? Can Ayn and Sari prevent the Layans' impending wrath? And will Lyle ever see his daughter again?)
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